July 7, 1999
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton created a committee to explore a candidacy for one of New York's U.S. Senate seats. After a background report, Margaret Warner talks with NewsHour regulars Doris Kearns Goodwin and David Gergen and Jay Gallagher, Gannett News Service's Albany bureau chief.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Please be seated.
SPENCER MICHELS: Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stood by her husband's side during his political career for years, is stepping forward to start her own, trying on the prospect of elected office to see if the fit is right. After nearly a dozen trips to New York State this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton today took her first formal step to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Mrs. Clinton's staffers filed papers this morning to set up an exploratory committee. Tomorrow the First Lady will travel to Senator Moynihan's upstate farm to kick off what she calls a "listening trip" across the state.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I'll spend some time, a lot of time in New York listening to people, and I'm looking forward to that.
SPENCER MICHELS: When the idea of Mrs. Clinton running for the Senate came up back in the fall, many of the state's top Democrats welcomed her.
SEN. CHARLES F. SCHUMER, (D) New York: Don't you think it's time for a woman to represent New York in the United States Senate?
SPENCER MICHELS: Early polls even put her ahead of Rudolph Giuliani, the current mayor of New York City, who is the likely Republican contender for the Senate.
MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI, New York City, NY: The celebrity status is helping her a great deal, and it will.
SPENCER MICHELS: New Yorkers soon started seeing more of the First Lady in their state.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: In my many visits to New York, not only since I've been privileged to live in the White House, but on many occasions before, I have always been very excited by the dynamism of the people here and the real cutting-edge approach to a lot of what I consider to be the important challenges that we face, and that's a great attraction to me.
SPENCER MICHELS: A candidate does not have to be a New York resident before election day to run for statewide office.
PROTESTERS: Go home! Go home!
SPENCER MICHELS: But that hasn't stopped Republicans from calling the First Lady, who has never lived in the state, a carpetbagger. They poked fun at her recent mention of a visit she made to a New York town named Elmira.
REP. RICK LAZIO, (R) New York: She needs an exploratory committee to find Elmira. This is somebody who has never lived one day of her life in New York outside the Plaza Hotel.
SPENCER MICHELS: If she eventually does decide to run, Mrs. Clinton will be the first presidential spouse to run for public office, a prospect the president recently reflected on.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I will be strongly supportive of whatever decision she makes, and will do all I can to help, on this and any other decision from now on, just as she has helped me for the last 20-plus years.
SPENCER MICHELS: And if she does run, Candidate Clinton is bound to face many tough questions from the rough-and-tumble New York press about her husband's policies, as well as her own.
|Grabbing for the brass ring.|
JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, three perspectives on the prospect of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. We hear from two NewsHour regulars: Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and David Gergen, former special counsel to President Clinton. He also served in the Reagan and Nixon administrations. Joining them is Jay Gallagher, Albany Bureau Chief for Gannett News Service.
MARGARET WARNER: David, you've worked with Hillary Clinton. Why do you think she's doing this?
DAVID GERGEN: Margaret, last fall she went into New York to help Democrat Chuck Schumer, who was running for the Senate and had a lagging campaign. She was an electrifying force, and many, many Democrats suddenly realized, "Why don't we have her run next time?", and they invited her in. So, there are a lot of observers who think that's really what has brought her into it.
In my judgment, that was like throwing a match onto dry kindling. She has wanted since childhood to do something to change social conditions in this country. She cares deeply about that, genuinely about that. I think that's one major element. The other frankly is I think that our Senate race will be a form of liberation for her after all she that she's faced here in the last few years. She took a real bashing after the health care fight. And she's always wanted to prove herself. And I think this will be a way to do it, but both within her marriage and within American politics.
MARGARET WARNER: Doris, do you agree, a liberating experience for her?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, absolutely. And I agree with David. I think once this became a real possibility, when her name got bandied around, it was psychologically impossible to close the door that had been opened. It's like the brass ring comes around, you have to grab for it. When else would have she have a chance for a race where there's no Democratic contender she'll have to worry about, all the fundraising in the world she needs? Every time she's out there, there will be an audience for her. Think of what energy it takes to run a campaign and what it means to slog through a campaign with half-filled audiences and no coverage of what you're doing. She'll never face that, which means she will have an energy coming back from the crowd. And I think what it shows is that for all the talk, and I was one what thought that she would be happy being an ambassador to the U.N. or running a foundation or writing a memoir, if politics is in your blood, you've got to have an electoral base. You've got to have your own platform. And it's almost like a rite of passage. And I think she's reaching for that brass ring. And the only thing is she has got to tell herself, which she probably has, the worst thing that happens is she loses. If she wins and she runs a fair race and doesn't win, then she still can go on and do all those other things. She's really lost nothing if she can psychologically accept it.
|Risks to running.|
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree that there's no real risk, no downside here, David?
DAVID GERGEN: No. I think there's a very large downside. I agree with everything Doris said up until just that last second. And this will puncture her balloon if she were to lose now. She is taking a risk, because the opportunity to go on and be treated as an icon by many, especially on the Democratic left, will, I think, change. I think that she will -- of course she can go on and run a foundation or write a book, or that sort of thing, but she'll no longer have that kind of iconic status she's now gaining.
MARGARET WARNER: Doris, what do you think - I mean, this is whole new territory for her, but also for the country, to be First Lady and a candidate at the same time. What's the biggest challenge she's going to face?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think the hardest thing for her is a candidate has to learn as they go through a campaign how to get better at what they do. They have to get to learn instincts better, they have to learn how to become a better speaker. And I'm not sure she's going to be so protected by Secret Service, she's going to be so protected by people applauding and giving her standing ovations even if she isn't great, how she will learn to get better. Some of her instincts are great. I think she's incredibly articulate, intelligent. Some of her instincts in politics are not that good. I mean, putting that New York Yankees hat on, if I had been her adviser, I would have grabbed it off her head. Those of us who are irrational fans know you can't suddenly love the New York Yankees all your life after you've been a Chicago Cubs fan. But, aside from that, I think what it means is hopefully she has advisors around her that can puncture that sort of protected balloon that will follow her as First Lady and celebrity running for office, which normal people would not have. And they learn how to get better as a result of not having it.
MARGARET WARNER: Jay Gallagher, what do you think -- what kind of special challenges does New York pose for someone like Hillary Clinton -- for Hillary Clinton? There is no one like her, I know.
JAY GALLAGHER: Right. Well, Margaret, first of all, it's a very diverse state. It's 18 million people, and when most people think of New York, they think of New York City and its environs, but there are seven million people in upstate New York, where she has had very little exposure at this point. And actually, the race will probably be decided there. And it's going to be -- so the flip slide of what you were saying before, if she makes any mistakes, there will be this huge press corps following her around to record every gaffe. So she has to be really concerned with that I think at this point.
|But can she win upstate?|
MARGARET WARNER: David, you've seen her in high-pressure situations. How good is she at dealing with scrutiny, with pressure?
DAVID GERGEN: Well, she cares far more deeply about her privacy than does her husband. She wants this zone of privacy. She feels very invaded during the past years. I think it's going to be -- the invasion is going to get deeper and more worrisome for her. I think it will be difficult. But the other part of it is -- she's got a couple things. She has - and early in the presidency she tended to see things in black and white terms. In politics inevitably is a part, a question of compromise and reaching out to others. She was very good at rallying her troops but not very good with working with the other side. She tended to demonize the other side. And I think we'll have to see whether she's grown into a place where she is going to feel more comfortable dealing with politics as it really is, and not bringing a sort of - it's almost a rigidity to it. The other thing, to go to Jay's point, in order to win upstate, she may have to move a little bit more to the center. If she moves toward the center, she's going to lose the luster that she has with so many progressive and liberal forces who want her in this race because they think she'll be a clear trumpet for their causes.
MARGARET WARNER: Doris, how do you see that question in terms of the various tugs and pulls she's going to have now that she's a candidate in her own right?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think the hardest thing for her is going to be that in order to generate the kind of enthusiasm, the kind of thrill that I think women and minorities might feel, David's absolutely right. She's going to have to become in some ways a liberal force -- which I do believe underneath she probably is -- and not be embarrassed about that. And yet, how do you do that in New York State, when you have to win that upstate vote? And if you do then moderate yourself and you don't say anything very exciting and you're just sort of being a triangulating force, then will you have that enthusiasm following you? And then you may get some of the upstate people. But you won't have the same zest and you won't have women following you and feeling she's speaking for us, she's Bobby Kennedy, which is what they were saying. I don't know how she's going to moderate those two things. And that will be a skillful thing if she can do it.
MARGARET WARNER: Jay Gallagher, in all the appearances she's made so far, what had been her message? Has it been, in other words, a sort of liberal trumpet, as David just said, or has it been different?
JAY GALLAGHER: Well, Margaret, it's important to remember that this is basically a Democratic state. There are five million enrolled Democrats and only three million Republicans. So her message has been sort of the trumpet of liberalism. Which has been very well received. Another thing to keep in mind is her probable opponent, Rudy Giuliani, is by no means a hard right Republican. He's pro gun control. He's pro-choice. He's pro-gay rights. And so where the right is open, she still has some room to move to the left, I think. And again, she just has to keep it close upstate, because in New York City, the vote enrollment is 5-1 Democratic. So she'll come out of there with probably a huge plurality. If she can hold her own with the more conservative upstate areas, then she'll probably win.
MARGARET WARNER: And another point, staying with you for a minute, Jay, about the scrutiny and pressure. Again, so far, has she had much scrutiny or pressure from the famed, or infamous, New York press?
JAY GALLAGHER: Well, we haven't had much of a chance yet, frankly, Margaret. She has been mostly -
MARGARET WARNER: You can hardly wait, right?
JAY GALLAGHER: Inaccessible. And that's one of the reasons there are going to be 200 reporters following her around tomorrow. And we're all hoping to get some chances to listen to her. You know, as she tries to listen to New Yorkers, she's going to have a lot of eavesdroppers there trying to hear what's being said. So we're all eager for the chance to scrutinize her more closely, I think.
|Bad for Gore?|
MARGARET WARNER: David, what impact will her candidacy, if she runs, do you think, have on national politics on the 2000 election as a whole?
DAVID GERGEN: It's going to have a enormously complicating impact upon the Al Gore campaign. In the near term, he could actually, would find it useful to have the spotlight and the 200 reporters go over and cover Hillary while he gets hit campaign back on track. He's been having some trouble with it.
But in the longer term, I think the contrast between Hillary Clinton going in and being a galvanizing candidate, attracting all this attention and having this kind of enthusiasm, as she will, probably from so many women and others, even as she attracts a lot of haters, that kind of galvanic effect, then the contrast between that and a Gore campaign, which so far has had a rather tepid reception from many Democrats, they're not quite certain about him, I think that is very dangerous for Al Gore, not to get to the issues themselves where she'll probably run well to the left of him.
MARGARET WARNER: Jay, are you hearing anything? I know New York Democrats have been, as a whole, very, very enthusiastic, but are you hearing any undercurrent concern that she's going to siphon a lot of money or attention away from Gore there?
JAY GALLAGHER: Well, not at all. I mean, it's kind of early. In fact, Bradley has some significant support in New York as well. The focus of New York politicians is trying to hang on to that Senate seat that Pat Moynihan has occupied for four terms. And they're thrilled that she was willing to take on this race because otherwise I think Giuliani would have been favorite against any other Democrat.
MARGARET WARNER: Doris, your view on the broader impact she's going to have on 2000 politics.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think if the campaign continues to talk about her relationship with Bill Clinton, not that she will want it to, but the press will keep talking about that, and if we constantly hear stories about is he in the center spotlight, is she, how's he going to deal with his depression, is she going to run from Arkansas it could feed that exhaustion factor that people feel about the Clintons in the polls now. I think that could somehow hurt the Democrats. It could hurt Gore. There could be a plague on all their houses. Let's forget about this. We've been through a real turmoil in the last couple years. I don't think people want to be reminded of it. So if she can run a campaign on the future, on the issues, and if somehow we don't get caught up in the soap opera part, which is part of what gives her the celebrity, which is the irony of it all, then I think it could be a positive effect. But if we get slogged back into all this sort of business of the drama of their relationship, I think people are really tired of all that.
MARGARET WARNER: And, David, what about the Republicans? Paul Gigot had a column in the Wall Street Journal Friday in which he said some Republicans are salivating over this in terms of it galvanizing Republicans.
DAVID GERGEN: Oh, I don't think there's a question that Republicans love that she's getting in because they know it may interfere badly with the Gore campaign. And they realize that she is a divisive figure in New York. She does have those people who are enthusiasts. There's no question about that. But at the same time, her presence in a campaign will draw to the polls many, many Republicans who do not like her, who find this to be an act of arrogance to run as First Lady, who do not like the historic aspect of this. They point out that Eleanor Roosevelt turned down an opportunity to run for the Senate. She has grabbed it. So there's going to be that kind of argument, which, in fact, Republicans will look to and say, "Bring her on!"
MARGARET WARNER: What about the historical element here, Doris? As David pointed out, Eleanor Roosevelt was asked to run for the Senate in 1945, I think. Where does Hillary Clinton's decision fit in?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think where it fits in is the women's movement has come a huge distance in the last 50 years. And I think her decision to go and seek her own independent base and her own future is more likely to be the kind of decisions we're going to see women making not only Fist Lady women, but all sorts of women. It was different 50 years ago. Eleanor was so far ahead of her time. She was this great eccentric who was beyond everyone. Now Hillary's part of a movement. Women are working, women are running for office. Women have ambitions. I think it's great she can do that. I think most people will have to accept that the kind of people that will get into public office now, if these men continue to be our presidents, the First Lady are going to have ambitions, desires, talents of their own, and they're more likely because of our media-oriented politics right now, to become celebrities and maybe have a base of their own. I'll bet you it's a trend for the future rather than an aberration.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think so, David, a trend?
DAVID GERGEN: I think we'll have to wait and see how it comes out. I think Doris is right. If she wins, it will be a trend. If she loses, we'll revisit the question.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It will be a lesson.
DAVID GERGEN: Yeah.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, thank you all three very much.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: You're welcome.